A Nonalcoholic Negroni Sbagliato Takes a High-Tech Approach

After years of renovations and restorations, New York’s historic Hotel Chelsea made its long-awaited return in 2022, and with it came the venue’s first-ever bar and lounge, the Lobby Bar. It’s as glamorous as the laundry list of A-listers who have haunted the legendary hotel since its inception in the 1880s: A showstopping vintage chandelier hangs above the large marble-topped bar, with original mosaic floors and plush velvet furniture to boot. Fittingly, the cocktails, designed by Sunday Hospitality’s director of bars, Brian Evans, pay homage to the hotel’s history and bohemian energy.

“With the Lobby Bar’s cocktail menu, we champion the approachability of the past, but with an eye towards the future,” says Evans, who aims to create a sense of elegant timelessness through the bar’s drinks. One half of the menu, titled “House Cocktails,” reinterprets modern classics like the Penicillin and Pornstar Martini. The other half of the menu is called “Tributes,” drinks dedicated to a specific person or place, such as the iconic Dukes’ Martini from London’s Dukes Hotel, or the Hemingway Daiquiri, the writer’s drink of choice. 

Evans has also integrated an impressive selection of nonalcoholic drinks into the beverage program. Far from an afterthought, the spirit-free offerings riff on the classics and integrate interesting ingredients—as in the Snap Pea Gimlet—and are not explicitly labeled as “nonalcoholic” on the menu—an approach that yields a more inclusive drinking experience. And the shining star of the lot is the Lobby Bar’s creative, summery take on the Negroni Sbagliato, the Strawberry Sbagliato. 

The cocktail began as a Negroni variation featuring a strawberry oleo saccharum in place of vermouth. Evans used Lyre’s London Dry alcohol-free spirit, which mimics gin, and tried to add some body to the drink by fat-washing the ingredient. Unlike gin, however, the Lyre’s freezes, so in order to fat-wash, Evans needed an oil that didn’t require freezing temperatures to completely solidify. He started with coconut oil, but after some R&D, felt that the infusion was too subtle when paired with the vibrant syrup. Pivoting, he grabbed a bottle of Lyre’s Italian Spritz—an Italian bitter-like liqueur—and infused it with cacao butter. This became the base for a new cocktail concept: the Strawberry Sbagliato.

With a new template in mind, the next step was replicating the sparkling wine component of the classic aperitivo drink. Rather than call for a dealcoholized version, “I wanted to experiment with making a simple sparkling nonalcoholic herbal ‘wine’ with tea and verjus to alleviate costs and have a bit more control of the final cocktail,” Evans explains. He made a strong, flash-brewed tea with dried lemon verbena leaves, an ingredient selected because it cuts through the perceived richness of fats, before combining it with filtered water and verjus for its wine-like tartaric acidity. He then force-carbonates the mixture so it’s ready to lengthen the cacao butter–washed bitter and aromatic strawberry syrup. 

To finish the drink, Evans pulverizes dried calendula flower petals then combines the powder with white granulated sugar, using the mixture to coat the rim of a wine glass. The garnish adds a slightly floral and honeyed touch with a textured visual appeal. Compared to the classic Negroni Sbagliato, Evans says, his nonalcoholic version has “more layered flavor composition.”

For a classic cocktail bar, the spirit-free drink is still a popular order. “On busier weeks now, we’ll sell 80 to 100 N/A Strawberry Sbagliatos per week,” says Evans. It’s a trend that hasn’t waned since the drink became viral last year. In fact, the Lobby Bar’s take predates the viral TikTok that gave the Italian classic a publicity boost, and even in a nonalcoholic guise, the popularity of the drink shows no signs of slowing. “I’m proud to say that this spirit-free beverage landed on our menu about one month before the vitality of the Negroni Sbagliato boom,” says Evans. 

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